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Full court reference held for late SC judges Justice NM Kasliwal, Justice PB Sawant, Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday held a full court reference for former Supreme Court judges late Justice N.M. Kasliwal, late Justice P.B. Sawant and late Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar as a mark of respect and remembrance for their service to the court and justice.

At the full court reference, Chief Justice N.V. Ramana said the Court had assembled to remember and pay homage to Justice N.M. Kasliwal, Justice P.B. Sawant and Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar, who had adorned the Bench of this Court.

Justice N.M. Kasliwal

About Justice Kasliwal, CJI Ramana said the late judge was born on April 04, 1928 and obtained B Sc and LL.B degrees from Jaipur and enrolled as an advocate in August, 1954. Despite being a practicing advocate, he did not give up his passion for academics and was a part-time lecturer in Law College, Jodhpur from 1960 to 1972.

He was appointed Additional Judge of the High Court of Rajasthan on 15th June, 1978 and soon after became a permanent Judge on 23rd November, 1978. After his experience on the bench in Rajasthan, he was transferred and appointed as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh on 29th March, 1989. Soon after, he was elevated as the Judge of the Supreme Court of India on 6th October, 1989.

In his nearly four-year-long tenure at the Supreme Court, he played a vital role in the evolution of our country’s jurisprudence. He was part of a number of 5-Judge Constitution Bench decisions and put forth several principles which are foundational to effective dispensation of justice.

He was also part of the decision in Abdul Rehman Antulay v. R.S. Nayak, which is a seminal ruling in safeguarding the rights of an accused. It was held that the right to speedy trial is implicit in the right to life enshrined in Article 21, specifying that the right is applicable to all stages of investigation. This specification is pivotal to the rights of under-trials.

In St. Stephen’s College v. University of Delhi, Justice Kasliwal dissented by stating that the right conferred under Article 30 is a general right granted to all minorities, but any such educational institution receiving state funds would be required to fall in line equally with other institutions.He has contributed immensely from the Bench in matters of environmental jurisprudence.

Subsequent to his retirement, he was appointed by the Government of India to head a High-Level Committee to look into and advise in the matter of expeditious disposal of pending cases of disbursement of compensation to the victims of Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster.

In 2013, he was appointed by the Supreme Court of India to oversee the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) elections as a principal observer. Besides being a legal luminary, he was also an avid swimmer, tennis player and had varied interests ranging from gardening to travel, music and movies.

He passed away on January 10, 2021 and is survived by his sons Rakesh Kasliwal, Rahul Kasliwal and daughters Rekha Gangwal, Renu Jain, Rashmi Jain and their families.

Justice P.B. Sawant

On Justice Sawant, CJI Ramana said the late judge was born on 30th June, 1930. He graduated in B.A. (Special) Honours in Economics in 1952 and then later completed his Law degree in 1956. Before becoming a lawyer, Justice Sawant was involved in social work. He started his practice as an Advocate in June, 1957 but in the same year abandoned practice and became a full-time worker with Peasants and Workers Party. He was also one of the Secretaries of a Mill Workers’ Union.

Justice Sawant also served as a lecturer in New Law College, Bombay, and taught Private International Law and Constitutional Law. As a practicing advocate, he was known to be someone who would dedicate his entire time towards fighting for the rights of the poor and downtrodden and represent them in court to give them justice.

He was appointed as an Additional Judge in the High Court of Bombay on 29th March, 1973 and was subsequently sworn in as a permanent Judge on 29th March, 1975. During his tenure as Judge of the High Court of Bombay, he delivered several judgments on civil liberties.

He was elevated to the Supreme Court in 1989. He was a part of several landmark decisions of the Supreme Court including the famous Mandal Commission judgment and judgment of the Constitution Bench in the matter of S.R. Bommai Vs. Union of India. He also delivered the landmark judgments of BCCI Vs. Union of India, which declared air waves as public property.

In addition to this, he was also a member of the cConstitution Bench that decided Indra Sawhney V/s Union Of India, whereby he described socialism, secularism and democracy as the trinity of the goals of our Constitution. He retired on 29th June, 1995. Even after his retirement he was very active in public life for the next 25 years.

After his retirement, he was appointed as the Chairman of Press Council of India and headed the Council for two terms from 24th July, 1995 to 7th August, 1998 and from 8th August, 1998 to 7th August, 2001. It was in his term that he brought out the guidelines which stated that no newspaper shall publish exit-poll survey. This was because he firmly believed in the idea that the media should not be used for manipulating the elections. It was during this time that he joined the people’s campaign for passing of the Right to Information Act. In fact, he was the one who prepared the first ever draft of the Act.

Being the self-righteous person that he was, he filed a defamation case against a leading media house for wrongly using his image. However, he did not accept the compensation awarded to him. He instead cautioned the media to be responsible. He also headed a Commission of Inquiry appointed by the Maharashtra Government in 2003 to investigate the charges of corruption against four Ministers of the Government of Maharashtra.

Justice Sawant also wrote many books on varied subjects, some of which are Human Rights in Retreat, A Grammar of Democracy, Mass Media in Contemporary Society, Judicial Independence: Myth and Reality. Through these books, he expounded on the importance of human rights and enunciated the democratic principles that needed to be preserved.

Through his life, Justice Sawant inspired lawyers and judges alike to work for the betterment of the people. He excelled in every role he took on, as an activist, as a lawyer, as a social worker, and as a judge. He has left an indelible mark in the history of the Indian judiciary, and his presence will be heavily missed. His humanism and compassion was valued by citizens and organizations alike. He was awarded the Indian Citizenship Award by Mother Teresa, the Rajarshi Shahu Award and Justice Ranade Award.

He passed away on 15th February, 2021 and is survived by his wife, Jayashree Sawant, son Vishwajit Sawant, daughters Sujata Mane and Rajashree Wad and their families.

Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar

On Justice Nijjar, the CJI said Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar was born on 7th June, 1949. He spent his early life in England. In 1962, he moved to England where he had his initial education. He graduated in Law from the University of London in 1972 and did Bar-at-Law from Middle Temple Inn, London in the year 1975. He practiced Law in England from 1975 to 1977.

Upon his return to India, he enrolled himself as an Advocate of the High Court of Punjab & Haryana on 28th April, 1977 where he specialized in constitutional and writ matters. During his practice, he was Standing Counsel to numerous nationalized banks, government corporations and universities. His efforts shone in the field of Service and Industrial Law.

In November, 1989 he was designated as Senior Advocate. He excelled in this post and on 13th October, 1995, the Government of Punjab appointed him as an Additional Advocate General.

Due to his immense hard work and legal capabilities, he was invited to be part of the Bench. On 8th April, 1996, he was elevated to the Bench of High Court of Punjab & Haryana as an Additional Judge. His tenure as a High Court judge took him across the country and back.

He was transferred to Bombay High Court and ultimately returned to the High Court of Punjab and Haryana by August, 2000. He was the Acting Chief Justice of the High Court of Punjab & Haryana from 3rd October, 2006 to 28th November, 2006. Further, he assumed the charge of Office of the Chief Justice of the High Court at Calcutta on 7th March, 2007.

He was elevated to the Supreme Court of India on 17th November, 2009. Due to his decorated service he was unanimously elected as a Master of the Bench (Bencher) at the Hon’ble Society of the Middle Temple, London on 11th October, 2011.

During his legal career, Justice Nijjar was a proponent of ADR and mediation. He turned this belief into practice when he was appointed as Chairman of the Mediation and Conciliation Project Committee of the Supreme Court in 2012.

Justice Nijjar retired from the bench on 6th June, 2014. His illustrious tenure as a Judge is marked by numerous landmark judgments including ‘Bharat Aluminium Co. Vs. Kaiser Aluminium Technical’; ‘Iridium India Telecom Limited Vs. Motorola Incorporated’; ‘Enercon India Vs. Enercon Gmbh’; ‘Reliance Industries Ltd. & Ors. Vs. Union of India’ and ‘Swiss Timing Limited Vs. Organising Committee, Commonwealth Games, 2010’.

He passed away on 26th March, 2021 and is survived by his wife Rani Nijjar, son Pritpal Singh Nijjar, daughter Ekta Jhanji and their families. My Brother and Sister Judges join me in conveying our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families of Justice N.M. Kasliwal, Justice P.B. Sawant and Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar. We pray to the Almighty to give them strength to bear this irreparable loss with fortitude.

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